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Financial Assistance 14


Recommendations

A. The Comptroller’s office will develop longer leave policies during extended periods of crisis for all disaster responders. The policies will be uniform for all disaster responders, including volunteer firefighters, Emergency Medical Technicians, and Red Cross volunteers.

B. The Comptroller’s office will develop consistent training leave policies for all responders.

C. The Comptroller’s office will develop policies for paying for all or a portion of the training for volunteer firefighters, Emergency Medical Technicians, and Red Cross Responders. Training may be counted as part of the agency-required training for personnel during a fiscal year.

D. The Comptroller’s office will recommend to the Texas Legislature any necessary changes in state law that would encourage the development and skills of disaster responders who are state employees and who contribute valuable assets to their agencies and communities. Other state agencies may use the new Comptroller’s office policies voluntarily.


Summary

Disaster Response Leave Policies

Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), and volunteer firefighters who are called to duty during working hours are granted emergency leave at the discretion of the Deputy Comptroller.[1] Generally, this leave has been short term leave.

In addition, Red Cross disaster responders are granted 10 days of leave with pay for responding to disasters only if they are specifically requested by the American Red Cross and approved by the Governor. Longer leave times are not addressed.

When disasters occur on a large scale, many emergency service workers may be needed to respond for longer times than the Comptroller’s office policies currently address. The Comptroller’s office and other state agencies currently have statutory authority to extend emergency leave to their own employees for good cause, and can exercise this authority to grant longer leave policies for all disaster responders during extended periods of crisis.[2]

Training Policies for Disaster Responders

For training purposes, firefighters and EMTs can take up to five days of training each fiscal year under a leave of absence with pay.[3] Red Cross workers who are state employees must take vacation or other leave time to attend training, or train after hours. The training policies for disaster responders will be uniform because they provide a valuable service to their agencies and communities. Under state law, the administrative head of an agency may grant emergency leave to an employee for good cause. This authority may be used to make training leave policies uniform within an agency.

Some agencies may pay for training, especially for EMTs, since they may respond to their agencies’ employees who experience medical emergencies such as heart attacks. However, there are no written policies providing for this in the Comptroller’s office. Policies providing for agency payment for training will also be uniform for all disaster responders. Many of the Red Cross training courses are offered free, so the cost would be minimal for Red Cross training.[4] Training for EMTs requires 144 hours of classroom time and 64 hours of real experience training, plus continuing education.[5] Training requirements for volunteer firefighters in Texas vary by individual volunteer fire department. State certification, involving a 468 hour course, is not mandatory. However, Texas A&M University offers a five-day school every July which volunteer firefighters may attend.[6] The cost of a basic firefighter course is approximately $300.[7]


Recommendations:

  1. The Comptroller’s office will develop longer leave policies during extended periods of crisis for all disaster responders. The policies will be uniform for all responders.
  1. The Comptroller’s office will develop consistent training leave policies for all responders.
  1. The Comptroller’s office will develop policies for paying for all or a portion of the training for volunteer firefighters, EMTs, and Red Cross Responders. Training may be counted as part of the agency-required training for personnel during a fiscal year.
  1. The Comptroller’s office will recommend to the Texas Legislature any necessary changes in state law that would encourage the development and skills of disaster responders who are state employees and who contribute valuable assets to their agencies and communities. Other state agencies may use the new Comptroller’s office policies voluntarily.


Fiscal Impact

While some days of productivity would be lost, the time for longer disaster leave times or for training would not be sufficient to require additional or replacement staff. Existing staff would enroll in training for disaster responders. State agencies already are appropriated funding for staff training purposes, and a small portion of this funding could be used to pay for necessary training for disaster responders. The skills developed during training and the service offered by disaster responders to their agencies and communities are a valuable asset to state government. The Comptroller’s office and other state agencies may want to determine which of their employees are disaster responders, and how many there are in each agency.


[1] Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, Personnel Manual and Employee Handbook, Chapter 7, Leave Benefits, Volunteer Firefighter/Emergency Medical Services Leave (Austin, Texas).

[2] TEX. GOV’T CODE ANN. §661.902.

[3] TEX. GOV’T CODE ANN. §661.905.

[4] E-mail from Audrey Simmons, director of Organization and Business Development, American Red Cross of Central Texas, October 10, 2001.

[5] E-mail from Phillip Jones, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, October 10, 2001.

[6] Telephone interview with Cy Long, program administrator for Fire Protection Personnel Certification, Texas Commission on Fire Protection, Austin, Texas, October 11, 2001.

[7] Texas Engineering Extension Service, Emergency Services Training Institute, “Course Catalog”: http://teexweb.tamu.edu/.